US air traffic system to be overhauled?

My flight from JFK to Seoul was an interesting one. A 14 hour non-stop is always interesting, but this one left at 1:00 AM New York time and arrived in Seoul at 3:30 AM local time.

I’ve never been at an airport at 3:30 AM. Incheon airport was more corwded than I expected and had fewer transportation and food options available than I was hoping for. The first buses started running after 5:00 AM so if you wanted to leave right away you would have to pay substantially more for a taxi. The only places to get food were a convenient store and a McDonalds.

There was a Korean Air information counter open, so we were able to arrange a flight to Jinju where we are now (visiting with my in-laws who were watching our dogs).

I’ll be back to blogging normally (with the promised reviews) soon. For today, here’s a guest entry by Mancunian:

We recently talked about how horrendous the delays have been for air travelers in the United States this summer. US airlines are having their worst summer ever for delayed and canceled flights, as many of us can probably verify.

This summer, the average delay was supposedly 51 minutes and in general, air travel delays cost passengers $9.4 billion every year (How do they calculate these figures, I can’t help wonder) And by the year 2014, air travel delays are forecasted to be around 60% higher than 2004 levels.

Part of the reason is the fact that there are more planes and passengers flying — today, around 45,000 flights occur over the US in a typical day. By 2016, that figure is expected to rise to over 61,000 flights, according to Smart Skies. And more passengers are flying in the US than ever before — in fact, the numbers are now over pre 9/11 levels.

The US air traffic control infrastructure was basically designed in the 1950s and is now too antiquated to keep up. Many air traffic facilities are understaffed and many of the busier ones are staffed by junior controllers, with little experience. And starting salaries have been cut for air traffic controllers — making a stressful job even less appealing.

The antiquated air traffic control system is potentially dangerous as well. Last week, there was another near miss at Los Angeles International airport — the 8th such incident at the same airport this year. And in July this year, two planes came close to colliding at Philadelphia International airport.

There are proposals to overhaul the entire air traffic control system in the United States with a comprehensive system using global satellite positioning technology — basically the same thing that is in many newer cars. This would both improve efficiency and also help make air travel safer.

But of course, it all costs money. Modernizing the entire air traffic control system across the US comes with an estimated $40 billion price tag and the FAA has yet to persuade the airlines and congress to pay for it. So, you probably shouldn’t expect the delays to improve any time soon!

Filed Under: Airlines + flying

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